WASHINGTON, D.C. — Members of the United Mine Workers Union plan to return to Capitol Hill next week to continue efforts to gain support for the American Miners Pension Act.
UMWA International President Cecil Roberts provided union members with an update on the pension issue in a robo call that went out Tuesday morning.
“Twenty-five UMWA retirees and spouses from Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were on Capitol Hill last week spreading the word about the American Miners Pension Act,” Roberts said. “There will be more retirees in Washington next week and even more the week after.”
The UMWA pension was created in the 1940’s and backed by the federal government. The most recent update was the 1974 Miners Pension Plan. However, as the coal industry fell on hard times and bankruptcy filings began to mount, the pressure has left the pension fund in jeopardy. The union won a similar fight for lifetime health care benefits earlier this year.
In Tuesday’s call, Roberts urged union members to make their voices heard in Washington by calling congressional members and urge them to get on board.
“If you’re representative is on the (sponsor) list–call them and thank them. If not, call them and ask them to be a co-sponsor,” Roberts said. “We need to build as much support as possible to preserve your pensions.”
The American Miners Pension Act, as currently written, would address the faltering plan with the following provisions, according to the UMWA:
1. Include a provision from the original Miners Protection Act allowing transfers of excess funds in the Abandoned Mine Land program to the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan.
2. Direct the Treasury Department to loan the 1974 UMWA Plan funds annually to prevent insolvency.
3. Cap the annual loan amount at $600 million and set the interest rate at 1%.
4. Require the fund to pay interest only for the first ten years and then pay back the principal plus interest over
a 30-year term.
5. Require the fund to certify each year that the pension plan is solvent and able to pay back the remaining principal and interest.
6. Actuarial analyses indicate that the UMWA 1974 Plan would need to take loans for as little as four years.
“We’ve seen 51 or 52 bankruptcies throughout the coalfields of this country,” Roberts said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. last month. “The people who have suffered the most and lost the most along the way are the people who worked in the coal mines and retired from the coal mines.”
The pensions impact nearly 87,000 who currently receive them and another 25,000 who will be retiring in the coming years to begin collecting. Approximately 26,000 of those who rely on the pensions are in West Virginia. The average pension is around $586 a month.